The Ivory Trade on our Doorstep

July 12, 2012

Poachers target elephants for their tusks, which they illegally sell for profit. Although demand is highest in China and Japan, a recent seizure in New York City serves as a stark reminder that no place is immune from the illegal wildlife trade.

2011 was a bad year for elephants—the deadliest since 1989, according to wildlife experts. Authorities seized more than 24 tons of ivory from carcasses slaughtered across Africa and Asia. For Americans, this illegal trade may feel like a distant threat, but markets for ivory sit right in our midst.

A recent ivory seizure in New York City drove this message home. In a small victory for conservation, two jewelry dealers based in midtown Manhattan pled guilty to selling ivory without permits. Under a plea agreement announced today, these defendants agreed to forfeit products valued at more than $2 million. Together, they are also required to pay $55,000 in donations to WCS for use in elephant conservation and anti-poaching efforts.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. says, “Poachers should not have a market in Manhattan. It is unacceptable that tusks from elephants wind up being sold as mass-produced jewelry and unremarkable decorative items in this city. Despite efforts to protect populations of endangered and threatened species, poachers are pushing them to the brink of extinction. This is an international problem that requires local solutions. In order to curb the poaching of elephants in Africa and Asia, we need to curb the demand side of the illegal ivory trade right here at home.”

Crackdowns like this one necessitate collaboration between the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Together, these groups have seized more than a ton of illegal ivory items.

At home and abroad, WCS regularly works with law enforcement to eradicate the illegal ivory trade. On today’s events, WCS Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science John G. Robinson, says, “Whether it’s here in Manhattan or in the Congo, partnerships with local law enforcement are the key to fighting back ivory poachers and securing a future for elephants. We thank District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for taking on the important issue of wildlife crimes and ivory smuggling.”

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